the straw man

Tom tended to go round and discuss ideas with, or canvass opinions from, the team members individually. Others preferred to ask everyone when they were all together.

The team had, early on, had meetings where it was felt that time was wasted because people weren’t prepared or spoke for too long or confused the business of expressing views, sharing information and making decisions.

The team’s solution for this was the
straw man, which seemed to work well. The straw man is shorthand for the technique of putting up an idea for discussion early – before it’s been fully researched or fleshed out – so that you can get quick feedback from other team members and find out who has useful knowledge they can share about it. Calling it a straw man means that the presenter of the idea is less attached to it and there is less concern about criticising it diplomatically (or at all) for fear of being negative.

The point of building the straw man is to knock it down and rebuild something much better. It’s a good place to start, and often provides the impetus you need to get past decision-making paralysis.

As Stewart said, ‘I really like the idea of a straw man. It’s much easier to say, “This is what I think we should do. What’s wrong with it?” than “What does everybody think we should do?”’


You might think I’m making dilemmas up, just for the sake of having one on every page. Nonetheless, if you follow the principle that the team reviewing an idea should say three positive things about any idea before criticising it, and if you show reasonable respect for your colleagues’ ideas, and if you wish to stay open to new ideas, and if you wish to be seen as an open and receptive cove… you could end up wasting good time on bad ideas.


Straw Man: the Nuremberg Chronicle, by Hartmann Schedel (1440-1514)


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